Friday, 3 July 2020

A trip out, a forty year wait over and a hot day

The Safari took the opportunity to venture further afield now that Lockdown is just about over. We arranged a socially distanced meet up with good friend JG at the always brilliant Lunt Meadows Lancashire Wildlife Trust reserve from where we'd recently seen some awesome pics of Water Voles. Now Water Voles are a species of our youth and the ditches between the fields where we grew up are only a stone's throw from Lunt Meadows. We wandered these fields regularly and often heard the unmistakable 'plop' of Water Voles diving in to the water when they heard us coming on our bikes or collecting Blackberries with our Nan, we'd often see them swimming in the ditches too, great creatures but when we thought back to the last time we'd actually seen a live one it must have been over 40 years ago despite having undertaken surveys for them in more recent years. Yes we'd found feeding lawns, latrines, the tell-tail 45 degree nibbled stems, burrows but not an actual animal!
By the time we arrived it was already getting hot and we worried that it might be too hot for the Water Voles to come out but J had a cunning plan.
We set off full of anticipation stopping at the first screen for a quick shuffy. The bench there was of interest J pointed out a Leaf-cutter Bee's nest in a hole in the wood and another in a larger crack - great stuff. To the right there's a small island in the pool where we saw both Ringed and Little Ringed Plover, the latter becoming #159 on our Photo Year List Challenge.
Little Ringed Plover
Ringed Plover
Over the water there were dragonflies in profusion getting our hopes up of a visiting Hobby.
A cracking start to the safari.
It was getting hotter by the minute so off we went in search of the voles. A Grasshopper Warbler sang from the rushy 'field' to our right. No chance of seeing it but it sang continuously all the time we were at that part of the reserve.
We had a short wait but J's plan was put in to action, she lobbed her half eaten pear over the ditch landing it square on the voles feeding lawn - a perfect shot! Within a few minutes the sweet scent of oozing pear juices wafting over the water was too much for one of the juvenile Water Voles and out from its burrow it came, swimming across the ditch to the feast.
Like a certain TV naturalist, CP, we can't abide the word 'cute' but is there a better one to describe these furry beauties.
It chomped away from several minutes being enjoyed by several watchers stood with us, while to keep them as undisturbed as possible general passers-by and dog-walkers were deliberately kept uninformed and left to wonder why there were a gang of people stood there looking at a dirty ditch. 
Once the little chap had eaten it's fill off it went back to it's underground world.
Somehow we missed the swimming shot...dohhh...
Moving on we came across this small Toad just sitting looking rather nonplussed at the side of the track. Not the best of days for an amphibian to be out in the open, it was already well over 25C.
Continuing the circuit we watched butterflies and looked fro other insects among the profusion of riverside vegetation.  A small brood of two young Tufted Ducks with their mother were on the river.
Great to see as this river in our youth was little more than a chemistry set and open sewer and is now teeming with life. Unfortunately none of the Banded Demoiselles would sit still for a photo opportunity - we'd never have dreamed of seeing anything like these along the river all those years ago.
Nesting Avocets are on site too, another 'wouldn't even have dreamed of' back in the day. It was a long long trek across country to the fabulous East Anglian marshes to see them in those days.
At the third screen dragonflies were very active, mostly Broad-bodied Chasers, some of which were good enough to perch up.
Also there were couple of young Lapwings already fledged and another Little Ringed Plover.
What a fabulous morning's wildlifing but now it was time for some lunch and boy were we glad we hadn't packed any chocolate, the inside of the car was like an over when we opened to doors.
After quickly demolishing a bag of cheese and pickle butties and having a good slug of fizzy orange juice it was back out on the circuit again. This time our wait for the Water Voles to show themselves was unsuccessful but while we waited we had some interesting butterfly action. Small Tortoiseshells mooched by as did a couple of Commas. But sharp eyed J soon realised that one of the Commas wasn't a Comma at all but a fritillary, a Dark Green Fritillary. Now these are present on the coastal dunes a couple of miles away and have been seen on the dune nature reserve on our side of the river in recent days but we never expected to bump into one at an open wetland site like this.
It could well be the first record for the site, to today our limited investigations haven't revealed any earlier records not even from the days prior to our visit. It seemed settled patrolling a territory bounded by the Bramble bushes either side of the ditch regularly stopping on both flowers and leaves but always just that little bit too far away. With the day being so hot, toughing 30C now, there was no way it was going to bask with its wings open but at least with its wings furled up you can make put the green sheen from which it gets its name.
Also on territory in the Brambles was a showy Whitethroat that flitted from fence to bush and back and occasionally towered into full song-flight mode.
Further round we again looked for butterflies along the path to the little hide. The pat sides are festooned with the gorgeous blue flower spikes of Viper's Bugloss but the hunt for skipper buttetflies wasn't as successful as hoped, a couple of brief sightings of Large Skippers were all we had.
But by now the Avocets on the adjacent pool had moved into a better position for viewing and we found another small juvenile that hadn't been hatched more than a few days. The first brood to hatch were well grown now but of the two youngsters only one remained after a hefty thunderstorm a few days earlier.
The great views of the Avocets nicely wrapped up our day out as time was pressing now and we needed to get homeward bound before too long.
So it's a huge thank you to JG for the company and up-to-the-minute info and the perfectly lobbed pear of course, and to Lunt Meadows for being as utterly brilliant as ever.

We've had some great wildlife encounters around and about Base Camp too during June and we'll be bringing you up to date with the best of those shortly - watch this space.

Where to next? We expect to get out on safari further afield again soon but aren't sure where yet...oh decisions decisions, there's so much good stuff to go and look at/for.

In the meantime let us know who's turned up brand spanking new in your outback.

And remember whatever you do, stay safe,maintain that social distance.


Wednesday, 10 June 2020

June arrives and so does the rain

The Safari has been mostly in the garden at Base Camp this week but we have been around a couple of local sites too.
We've had a little success with the moth trap but nothing to really get the pulse racing. To be fair the best catches this week have been non-moths like this tiny Caenis mayfly of which there were two on Monday morning.
When the sun has shone, which hasn't been as often as we'd like this week, we've been down to the bottom of the garden where it's a bit wilder (Wifey says too wild!). Up there we came across the first 2-Spot Ladybird we've seen this year, not seen many ladybirds of any description yet, this one was a very small individual.
With not much happening we took ourselves back indoors for a brew where we found this crane fly bouncing around the kitchen window trying to smash the panes of glass to get out. Once it had come to rest we saw that it wasn't one of your 'normal' types of Crane Fly but from the family of Fold Winged Flies, Ptychopteridae.
Later in the afternoon another Mint Moth was hanging round the pot plants..
The following morning we had a 'click & collect' grocery shop to pick up from the store. The van from which your shopping is parked at the top end of the car park and this morning there was a queue of cars waiting their turn so naturally we joined the end of it hoping it wouldn't be a long wait. We turned the engine off and wound the window down. There's not much in the way of vegetation anywhere near the store but the car park does have a few bushes which attract the local House Sparrow flock so we were listening to them chirruping away in the dense cover when we heard another call which sounded like a Coal Tit. We heard it again and it still sounded like a Coal Tit, can't be there's not a tree for miles and even further to the nearest conifers. Then a Coal Tit appeared in a little gap in the side of the line of bushes and hopped off only to be followed by a second - how mad is that - what a great shop car park tick. The Swift, or was there more than one, tazzing round the eaves of the terraced houses backing on to the car park was great to watch too. 
After the shopping as safely stashed away at Base Camp we set off with the mutt for a wander round Woodland Gardens and Heron's Reach. As soon as we entered the wood this huge fungus caught our eye. Must be the best part of a metre from end to end.
We're useless at fungi so if anyone can put a name to it let us know. The rest of the walk was mainly Blackcaps and Chiffchaffs but we did hear a Ring Necked Parakeet high above the old military pill-box  in the wood, could they have a nest somewhere up there we were there again today and heard one calling from the same place on the way out and the way back.
Mammals were represented by both Lion and Tiger but no Elephants as we peered over the zoo fence. The mutt's nose tells him there's something interesting on the other side of the fence but he hasn't a clue what as he's not tall enough to see over - probably just as well! What we didn't expect to see was a Rabbit a little further along the path and this side of the fence, can't remember the last time we saw one of those round there, if indeed we ever have.
We had a look under the usual amphibian refugia finding just a few Toads and nothing that we 'wanted' - the ground was very dry even under cover.
Back on the path a movement low in the undergrowth on the far side alerted our attention. Another Rabbit and a young one at that. Certainly wasn't expecting to see a second round there and this one was a good 200 metres from the first so almost definitely from another family.
Some sunshine brought out a few insects like this Speckled Wood butterfly but far fewer than we would have expected especially bees of which there were hardly any.
Wednesday saw the first appreciable rain for several weeks although despite it being prolonged and quite heavy it still hasn't done any more than dampen the ground.
In an attempt to attract the over-flying families of Starlings into the garden we've been putting mealworms out. Not a Starling in sight, they've even stopped flying over. But as soon as we put any mealworms out now the local Magpies and this individual Herring Gull are right on them, the gull having to do a precarious balancing act to get its beak in the tub..
Also seen in the garden on a wet Wednesday were a second family of Greenfinches and the Great Tits are feeding young in our House Sparrow terrace - very late starting this year, they'd fledged by now this time last year.
Thursday finally gave us some moths and not Heart & Darts.
Angle Shades
Treble Lines
Setaceous Hebrew Character
Also in the trap were a couple of Caddis Flies, this larger one is a Limnopphilus sp
A much smaller one is as yet unidentified.
After breakfast we were down on the beach with the mutt. A few Moon Jellyfish had been washed up. No other species of jellyfish though although in recent days others have been reporting lots of Sea Gooseberries.
We also found a smallish Common Starfish alive and well and cruising slowly round one of the puddles left by the tide very close to the seawall. Also found nearby was this deceased Thornback Ray, another angling victim no doubt.. Juts look at the shadow of the spines along its tail - fearsome!
Along the cliffs we came across our first juvenile Pied Wagtail, waiting around a while we saw both the parents but no other youngsters.
Around the garden in the afternoon we concentrated on watching the bees
Early Bumble Bee
But also found some other little things like this Running Spider, Philodromus sp, and by eck could it run it was well wick even over the vertical surface of a pane of window glass!!!
and this tiny green true bug just a few millimetres long.
The bee we hoped to find didn't turn up. An apparently all black one that won't keep still.
We did finally catch up with it at the weekend - do we still have weekends? A Leaf  Cutting Bee, probably Megachile centuncularis.
Being photo-bombed by a Tree Bee
We've seen both the male and the female but haven't seen the female carrying leaves yet although in the bottom pic it's collecting pollen. 
On Sunday we had an early morning wander round the Rock Gardens seeing a pair of Whitethroats feeding young and another male singing from the opposite end of the field.
Back at the bottom of the garden we came across this small black wasp. It's believed to be one of the five (or six - depending on which taxonomist you read) Pemphredon species although a profile pic would have been useful to rule out other genera but it didn't hang around long enough for that and we haven't seen it since.

If it is one of those none of them have been recorded in the Fylde before.
As dusk fell we had our first House Sparrow on the new millet feeder in the back garden. Probably the same male that came a couple of times when the feeder dispensed suet pellets but hasn't been seen since. All we need now is for it to come back during the day to have his photo taken, and we'd be quite happy for him to bring his family along too - we need them - - we jumped in with both feet and got 17kg of red millet delivered.

All in all a pretty action packed week on safari.

Where to next? With lockdown being eased even further  we're going to be a bit more adventurous and have some further flung safaris planned.

In the meantime let us know who's Been visiting your outback.

Remember to stay safe and socially distant while enjoying the wildlife round your way.

Wednesday, 3 June 2020

Highlights from Weeks 9 and 10 of not-really-lockdown-at-all-anymore

The Safari has spent a little more time away from our immediate area now that travel restrictions have been lifted but we've still not bit the bullet and ventured very far away from the Fylde coast. With summer-like weather conditions many places have been bombed out by 'Covidiots' getting far too close to one another in huge numbers so we've played it safe and kept well away, we're quite happy not to risk becoming a statistic in the Second Wave.
A pleasant morning on the dunes early in Week 9 had us looking for lizards, only two very brief sightings, and butterflies which were more obliging in that the few we saw did actually keep still.
Common Blue
While we were there the biggest butterfly in the world turned up and flew directly over our head as it did a few training passes practicing almost landing at our small airport.
RAF A400M
In recent years we've not been seeing many Small Heath butterflies at all an it's been several years since we last got a pic of one so we were especially grateful to see a good few today particularly this one that settled long enough for a quick snap.
Back on the cliffs one morning we watched an angler bring in a Bass, too small to keep so had to be returned to the sea. However, his treatment of his catch was abominable. He left it flapping around on the concrete for nearly five minutes while he faffed around getting a new rig back in the water. Surely as an angler your first responsibility is to your catch whether you're going to take it homer for tea or release it back to the water.
Bass vertebrate photo challenge #149
But this chap seriously abused the fish while trying to unhook it. There's a cloth there could he not have held the fish to get a good look at what his disgorger was doing rather than trying to flick the hook out while the fish was in mid-air with the inevitable gravity-induced consequence when the hook did eventually dislodge.
The poor fish's traumatic time wasn't over even then. It was dropped over the wall probably onto the sloping concrete apron below as the tide was on the ebb, the guy never bothered to check never mind walk the 15 yards to the nearest steps and gently let it swim off. Disgraceful behaviour and sadly he's not the only one to act like that.
Fortunately the fisherman who caught this Lesser Spotted Catshark had it unhooked and back in the sea within two minutes.
Back at Base Camp it was good to see a brood of two recently fledged Greenfinches in the garden. This one hasn't quite got the hang of feeders but you'll be pleased to know it sussed how they work not long after the pic was taken.
A safari to Marton Mere gave us the opportunity to take about 300 snaps of the Swifts cruising around about double tree-top height just to get this one almost usable shot. We've hardly seen any Swifts this year and it's fair to say we've seriously missed the screamy sky-scthyers.
Photo Year List Challenge #150
Another bird we've not seen many of is the Kestrel so it was nice to have one fly past us quite low down, might have helped the composition of the pic if it wasn't quite so close and was coming towards us instead of going away but hey-ho a little stunner whichever way they're going.
Not far away deep in the undergrowth a Wren blasted out his song and for a few brief moments sat out in the relative open. It always amuses us that something so small can produce so many decibels.
Getting back towards the car the farm buildings had a few Swallows and House Martins tazzing about, trying to get one in good light was another matter
House Martin PYLC #151
During week 10 we spent more time in the garden watching the bee hotel where the Blue Mason Bees are still active. The males hang around resting on the nearby plant pots in the sunshine 
waiting for new females to emerge, like this one that's pushing a blob of the mud seal of its cell in front of it.
The Red Mason Bees are still busy too. So busy they have to cleave their growing brood cells backwards and upside down.
Beneath the bee hotel our God-only-knows-where-they-came-from Madeiran Orchids have come into full bloom.
Back at the bee hotels there's been a lot of interest in them from this parasitic wasp, Sapyga quinquepunctata. We've seen it several times hanging around on the sides or tops of the hotels, it seems to be waiting for the right moment to make its dastardly move.
Always keeping an eye open for other stuff around the garden we saw this Sawfly land on a nearby rose leaf where it appeared to be ovipositing on the top surface of the leaf - we'll have to keep an eye on that particular leaf to see what, if anything, transpires...
lso creeping around was this Zebra Spider, one of several in the garden now.
And noticing a flutter had us chasing this pristine only just emerged Mint Moth round the plant pots beofre it finally settled in a suitable spot for a snap.  Who said moths are just butterflys' boring cousins, this one would knock many butterflies into a cocked hat if only it were 3/4/5x bigger.
In the heat we decided to take the mutt round Heron's Reach where he could stay a little cooler in the shade of the trees. We were surprised to see so few bees and butterflies around the flowers - has the very dry weather affected nectar production? There were some good sightings though including our first Emperor dragonfly which flew off as soon as we lifted the camera - many thanks to the photographer who pointed it out to us. We did get the lens up in time for our first Azure Damselfly pic of the year.
Chiffchaffs were singing all over the shop, by the time we'd realised we'd heard about half a dozen we thought we really should have been counting them - similarly the Blackcaps too, just how many are there round there these days?
Back with the invertebrates we saw this damselfly in somewhat lumbering flight and once it settled could see it had captured a rather substantial prey item.  Once stationary we could see it was a Common Blue Damselfly and not another Azure Damselfly.
We'd seen a Large Skipper butterfly sitting on a small patch of Nettles and while trying to get a pic managed to disturb it and then not be able to relocate it. But while trying to re-find it we spotted this unusual beetle. We managed a couple of half decent phone pics and later discovered it to have the rather long winded name of Golden Bloomed Grey Longhorn Beetle and that it could be the first record of the species in the Fylde.
Further on a Song Thrush sat up nicely for us.
A very good morning's walk but the mutt did get too hot despite being in the shade of the trees most of the time - it was a very warm day!
Back at Base Camp the Sapyga quinquepunctata was still to be seen lurking furtively around the bee hotel.
Bottlenose Dolphins had been seen a couple of morning's on ther trot down at the coast so we gave that a go knowing full well that if we took the big lens they wouldn't show. You guessed right they didn't. At least the local House Sparrows aren't so camera shy. This one has seen something moving in the grass and was about to fly down to snaffle it up to take back to its nestlings across the road. Their eyesight must be phenomenal because what ever it was was too small for us to make out in its beak as it departed - how on Earth did it spot something so small tucked up in the grass from about five metres away?

There wasn't much else about although one of the local Pied Wagtails was very confiding and allowed close approach and for us to get down low for an eye-to-eye shot.
On our return, almost back to the start, we spotted a black dot in the water a long way down towards the pier. We knew what it was and wished it was neared, Our first Grey Seal along this section of the prom of the year - can't believe they've been so few and far between, we would have expected to have seen a t least a few by now given that it's the end of May. But at least it's blubber even if it;s not a dolphin.
Grey Seal PYLC #152
The bee hotel is now under constant attack from the wasp and it's venturing across the front inspecting the holes.
Elsewhere in the garden the pond has been very quiet this year until the last few days when we've been seeing Bumble bees dropping in for a drink...what was that we were saying about the dry spell and nectar production earlier...
We've not had any Blue Tailed Damselflies emerging yet, really hope they've not become extinct in there at the hands of the fish - or should that be mouths of the fish?
The garden did turn up this rather wonderful Red Legged Robber Fly which we though tat first might be one of the Spider Hunting Flies. Turns out it could be another first record for the Fylde although having said that the NBN maps we check on can be notoriously out of date for many species.
Much bigger than the tiny Zebra Spiders that scurry around the trellis is this Tegenara Spider that has set up home in one of the plant troughs by the garage wall.
While looking at more bees coming in to the pond fro a drink we spotted this larva moving around, we guess it's some kind of hoverfly larva but could be horribly wrong.
Another fruitless dolphin search did give is a female House Sparrow to compliment the male from a couple of days earlier.
And finally we managed, or nearly managed, to get a pic of the parasitic wasp leaving one of the active nesting holes in the bee hotel, Blue Mason Bee is the victim in this case.
This type of parasitism is the reason why bee hotel tubes should be at least 10cm deep and preferably 15cm. The females bees are produced at the back leaving the males at the front much more vulnerable to attack but the females are much more valuable to the population as a whole, one male can fertilise several females so it doesn't matter if many/most get parasitised. On the other  hand if most of the females get parasitised because the holes are too short then the bee population will start to decline. So take care when buying bee hotels from the likes of supermarkets and garden centres, make sure they are at least that important 10cm deep. Better still make your own but again you'll need long enough drill bits or bamboo tubes.

So there you have it, plenty has been happening almost far and wide.

Where to next? The weather has taken a big turn for the worse so some of our favourite places further afield may be less busy and we can give them a try.

In the meantime let us know what's been seen in your locked down outback.

Stay socially distant - stay safe.